State v. A.C., 20210466-CA

CourtCourt of Appeals of Utah
Writing for the CourtMORTENSEN, Judge:
Citation2022 UT App 121
PartiesState of Utah, Appellant, v. A.C., Appellee.
Docket Number20210466-CA
Decision Date03 November 2022

2022 UT App 121

State of Utah, Appellant,

A.C., Appellee.

No. 20210466-CA

Court of Appeals of Utah

November 3, 2022

Third District Juvenile Court, Tooele Department The Honorable Elizabeth M. Knight No. 1190115

Sean D. Reyes, Carol L.C. Verdoia, and John M. Peterson, Attorneys for Appellant

Andrew L. Roth, Attorney for Appellee

Judge David N. Mortensen authored this Opinion, in which Judge Ryan D. Tenney and Justice Jill M. Pohlman concurred.[1]



¶1 After A.C., an eighteen-year-old, had consensual sex with a minor, he challenged his inclusion in the Division of Child and Family Services' (DCFS) database of perpetrators of "[s]evere type[s] of child abuse or neglect." See Utah Code Ann. § 80-2-708(1) (LexisNexis Supp. 2022). The juvenile court agreed that he should not have been included in the database, concluding that he had not committed "severe abuse" as defined by the relevant


statute. See id. § 80-1-102(78)(a). But the statute makes clear that any sexual abuse of a minor by an adult is a severe type of child abuse or neglect for the purposes of the database. Id. Therefore, we reverse.


¶2 A police detective walked up to a parked car on May 7, 2020, and found A.C. and a minor inside putting on clothing. A.C. was eighteen, the minor fifteen. "[B]oth parties factually consented to having sex." "The parties had been friends" beforehand, and "there was no coercion" involved.

¶3 The police referred the incident to DCFS. DCFS maintains the Management Information System (MIS) database to track child welfare and child protective services cases. See Utah Code Ann. § 80-2-1001(3)-(4) (LexisNexis Supp. 2022).[3] The Licensing Information System (LIS) is a subset of the MIS intended "for licensing purposes," see id. § 80-2-1002(1)(a)(i), that has additional ramifications, as an alleged perpetrator on the LIS "may be disqualified from adopting a child, receiving state funds as a child care provider, or being licensed by" DCFS, a human services program, a "child care provider or program," or "a covered health care facility." See id. § 80-2-708(2)(a)(v).[4] The LIS identifies


individuals found to have committed a "[s]evere type of child abuse or neglect." See id. § 80-2-708(1). Individuals are placed on the LIS after such a finding is deemed "supported" by DCFS, see id. § 80-2-708(1)(b), or "substantiated" by a juvenile court, see id. § 80-3-404(1).[5]

¶4 After investigating A.C., DCFS entered a "supported finding of Sexual Abuse against [him]" and placed him on the LIS.

¶5 A.C. challenged DCFS's finding by petitioning the juvenile court. See id. § 80-2-708(3)(a) ("Upon receipt of the notice [of a supported finding], the alleged perpetrator has the right to . . . immediately petition the juvenile court . . . ."); see also id. § 80-3-404(1) ("If an abuse, neglect, or dependency petition is filed with the juvenile court that informs the juvenile court that the division has made a supported finding that an individual committed a severe type of child abuse or neglect, the juvenile court shall . . . make a finding of substantiated, unsubstantiated, or without merit.").

¶6 After a trial, the juvenile court concluded that A.C.'s actions constituted "sexual abuse" of a minor but ordered "that the finding for sexual abuse, severe, shall be changed to


unsupported" and that "a finding for sexual abuse, non-severe, [be] substantiated." The juvenile court based its order on its application of section 78A-6-105 of the Juvenile Court Act, which defined "severe abuse" as that which "causes or threatens to cause serious harm to a child." See id. § 78A-6-105(51) (Supp. 2020) (renumbered 2021).[6] While the court acknowledged that sexual abuse of a child by an adult usually causes or threatens serious harm, it stated it could not "find that the sexual abuse" here did so, because A.C. and the minor "were friends and were mutually engaging in sexual conduct" and because the minor "did not view herself as a victim and refused to be interviewed by [DCFS]."

¶7 The State filed a motion seeking post-judgment relief, arguing that all sexual abuse is a "[s]evere type of child abuse or neglect" under the definition (the Definition) given for that term.


See Utah Code Ann. § 80-1-102 (LexisNexis Supp. 2022).[7] The juvenile court denied the motion.


¶8 The State now appeals both the denial of its post-judgment motion and the juvenile court's original order. The State contends that the juvenile court incorrectly interpreted and applied the Definition and that all "sexual abuse" by an adult against a minor qualifies as a "[s]evere type of child abuse or neglect" for the purposes of the LIS. "Questions of statutory interpretation are questions of law that we review for correctness." In re A.K., 2012 UT App 232, ¶ 11, 285 P.3d 772 (cleaned up).


¶9 The Definition is unambiguous: sexual abuse by an adult against a minor is a "[s]evere type of child abuse or neglect" for the purposes of the LIS. See Utah Code Ann. § 80-1-102(78)(a) (LexisNexis Supp. 2022). Analysis of harm to the minor is neither necessary nor appropriate.

¶10 "In undertaking statutory construction, we look first to the plain language of a statute to determine its meaning. Only when there is ambiguity do we look further." Brewster v. Brewster, 2010 UT App 260, ¶ 16, 241 P.3d 357 (cleaned up). The legislature has mandated that "[i]f, after investigation, [DCFS] makes a supported finding that an individual committed a severe type of child abuse or neglect, [DCFS] shall" enter the person's "name and other identifying information" and its finding against that


person into the LIS. See Utah Code Ann. §§ 80-2-708(1), 80-2-1002(2) (LexisNexis Supp. 2022). Here the parties dispute the meaning of "[s]evere type of child abuse or neglect." The Definition reads, in pertinent part,

"Severe type of child abuse or neglect" means . . .: (i) if committed by an individual who is 18 years of age or older:
(A) chronic abuse;
(B) severe abuse;
(C) sexual abuse;
(D) sexual exploitation;
(E) abandonment;
(F) chronic neglect; or
(G) severe neglect; or
(ii) if committed by an individual who is under 18 years old:
(A) . . .
(B) sexual behavior with or upon another child that indicates a significant risk to other children.

Id. § 80-1-102(78)(a).

¶11 This court need look no further than the statutory text to reach its conclusion. The Definition clearly states that "sexual abuse" is a "[s]evere type of child abuse or neglect" when committed by an adult. Id. There is no need (or leeway) to measure harm-the legislature has deemed such sexual abuse to be a "[s]evere type of child abuse or neglect" in substantiation proceedings.

¶12 In resisting that conclusion, A.C. conflates several terms. First, A.C. asserts that the...

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